Catholic Exchange: Waiting on the Lord During Easter

Christ is risen! Alleluia! We have entered into the great and joyful season of Easter. It is a time of re-birth and hope as we live the Resurrection. We rest in the truth and wonder that sin and death are conquered by Jesus Christ and that all things are being made new. Even in this great joy, there are many of us who are still in a period of waiting. While God renews the face of the earth, we must still live in a Fallen world. Our joy is often tinged with uncertainty and suffering. It is indeed possible to feel joy and sorrow at the same time. Joy contains within it the sting of homesickness as God reminds us that this is not our final home. Beauty is often mingled with heart-break as our souls soar towards Heaven, but still await the Beatific Vision. How do we live our joy and our waiting?

Rest in the Word of God.

Many of us are waiting on the Lord to act or respond in a certain area of our lives. It may be a cancer diagnosis, desire for a child or parent to return to or enter the Church, a new job, a relationship, infertility, or any other number of situations. My husband and I are waiting, patiently and not so patiently, on God’s will in adoption. The joy of the Easter season can contain within it, periods of the Cross. We can rest assured in this period of waiting that God is conforming us to Himself and drawing us close.
Since it is Easter and the celebration of the reason for our hope, meditating on the Word of God is critical. Take time to read the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels. Imagine being at the tomb on that first Easter morning. Walk with the Apostles as they meet the risen Lord. Hear the Lord call you by name, as He did St. Mary Magdalene. We must allow the Word of God to permeate our souls as we wait for answers. Meditating on the Resurrection allows God to fill our hearts with the joy of Easter.

Pray without ceasing.

We are called to trust in God. Remember that we killed God and nailed Him to the Cross and He came back in forgiving love to redeem each one of us. He loves each one of us and everything He does is for our own good and sanctification. Keeping this truth in mind allows us to turn to Him in every aspect of our daily lives. We must learn to breathe out prayers every moment of the day. It can be as simple as speaking the name of Jesus or offering up the dishes for our prayer intention or the needs of others. In moments when our waiting seems overwhelming, we need to turn to Our Lord in prayer. He knows the needs and wants deep within our hearts, but He wants us to ask for them. We can speak openly with Him, even in our struggles and frustrations. He wants to draw close to us and to fill our hearts with the joy of Easter, even in our waiting.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

I Have No Desire to Be an “Expert”

Our society is filled with “experts”. There are experts in politics, medicine, theology, philosophy, science, sociology, psychology, business, and the list goes on and on. An expert is someone who seems to know everything that needs to be known about a particular discipline. This should immediately put us on guard. Anyone who thinks they know everything that needs to be known about a subject, clearly knows very little. Humilitas is the hallmark of the wise. This is how we have been given the Socratic method.

Socrates is told by his friend Chaerephon that the oracle at Delphi told him that Socrates is the wisest man in the world. Socrates’ first question is: How can this be? How could he be the wisest man in the world? He is even more perplexed because the oracle cannot lie. So he goes on the mission of engaging with other philosophers and “experts” to discover the truth of the oracle. He quickly learns that most philosophers or sages of wisdom held themselves up in high esteem. They do not see their own limitations in knowledge or practice of what they teach. Socrates acknowledges his own limitations, and so, the necessity of humility in attaining wisdom is born. In this humility, Socrates proves to be wisest, precisely because he does not consider himself to be so. He recognizes that truth and wisdom are never fully exhausted. We must first come to know our limitations and then we can proceed on the journey towards wisdom and truth.

The expert is the exact opposite of Socrates. The expert holds up their knowledge as superior and ultimate. We watch news programs and are inundated with experts. The primary goal of all of these experts is to tell us how to think. How often does a self-purported expert tell people to study the matter in question for themselves? True, I am not going to delve into quantum physics at this point in time, but the opportunity is open to me should I decide to learn at least the basics.

G.K. Chesterton lamented the dawn of the age of experts. He saw immediately that it creates a power struggle and make us intellectually lazy. The expert removes our own responsibility in learning. We no longer consider whether or not what is presented comports with reality, which is truth. We are all called to be philosophers, or seekers of truth (Fides et Ratio). In fact, we are all naturally philosophers, that is what Pope Saint John Paul II meant. Every single person asks the question “Why?” on a regular basis. Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the meaning of my life? Does life have a purpose? Is there an after life? And the list continues on.

When we abdicate our own natural inclination to search for truth and wisdom, we leave ourselves trapped in a type of adolescence where we wait for other people to tell us how to live, act, vote, or understand a certain discipline. As Catholics, we submit to Holy Mother Church, but that is because we have learned through faith and reason, that Christ established the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who gives her form (life),  and that the Church will guide us ultimately to truth. Our job is to swim into the depths and plunge deep into the truth of the Most Holy Trinity through the Church.

I do not write because I am an expert. Theological study has revealed to me just how little I know. If that is not how a person responds to graduate level work in the expansive mysteries of our faith, then they are doing it wrong and they missed Socrates’ lesson. In fact, every good theology program requires the reading of Plato’s, The Trial and Death of Socrates. Humility is a requirement of any good student of truth. That doesn’t mean we do not battle intellectual pride. That is a great temptation for any student, including the student who labors at home in the autodidact fashion, rather than through formal study at a university.

There is a very real and tempting danger in academia to desire the position of expert. I know that I have fallen into this trap at times. There is great power in knowledge, but it must be harnessed and ordered to the good, the true, and the beautiful. My desire for self-gratification is not a properly ordered understanding of the knowledge God has given me, nor the intellect He gave to me. I did not create this intellect. I did not create the truths I study. I did not create the universe. I merely share in a limited fashion what belongs to Him.

My purpose as a writer is to open up the world to my readers. We are sojourners. We are on a journey towards truth together. Teachers, writers, artists, etc. are not meant to be “experts” we are meant, first to be students ourselves, and second, to point the way in whatever limited way God allows us to do so. When I write, I want to point towards the ultimate Source. I want my readers to jump into the deep. I want you to open up great works of theology, literature, philosophy, Church documents, Church history, art, etc. Sure everyone’s intellect is different, but that does not mean we cannot learn something, even if we walk away somewhat baffled. We should all walk away feeling small and unworthy in the face of great mystery.

There is nothing more complex or humbling than studying the very limited theology we have on the Trinity. Upon reading treatises–what few there are–on the Trinity our brain should hurt, and yet, our souls should soar. Terms such as procession, filiation, circumincession, spiration, paternity, relations of opposition, and tota simul are enough to make a person’s head spin. They only scratch the surface of the great mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.

When we read an article or a book, we should look to the author as a guide and fellow traveler. We do not hold them up in some supreme place and presently halt our own thinking and philosophizing. Instead, we should mull around what the author is saying and truly come to understand within ourselves what is being said. In the case of Church documents, there may be times we are quite literally wrestling with God, as Jacob did. We all wrestle with God and we all lose, but we become closer to our true selves as we allow God to deepen our understanding of Him, even in the struggles.

When you read my work, no matter where it is found, never think of me as an “expert”. I want you to go read the resources I provide. I want you to learn more than me. I want you to swim deep into the truth. There are so many great teachers in world history and I only play at it. I am formed by my teachers: Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Justin Martyr, Benedict XVI, John Paul II. These are only a few in a very long and ever expanding list. Take my 1500 words and allow them to point you towards your destination: truth. That’s it. I want you to pick up the books I have read. The documents I study. That’s where I want you to go. The last thing I want is for you to think my 1500 words are good enough or the end of the story.

We live in a culture of instant gratification. We think 1500 words is good enough. It’s only good enough if we do not desire truth. It is only good enough if we want to remain trapped in mediocrity or to never try to understand why we are here.  If you read one of my articles and do not desire to plunge into the depths, then I am failing you as a writer. God bless you on the journey….

No, an Essay on the Internet is Not Enough

I have mentioned this before, but I am going to discuss this topic again. A person cannot know everything about a topic or an author based on 1500 words. We live in an age of immediate gratification. Far too many of us want short answers to complex questions and we make the mistake in thinking that an essay on the Internet is going to give us the total picture or explain complex realities to us. If we want to truly understand a topic then we have to do the work and study it on our own.

Writers who write for national/international blogs or news magazines have a word limit. Depending on the site, the editor imposes a word count that is considered ideal for their readership. Catholic Exchange, where I have been a weekly contributor for nearly 18 months, tends to shoot for 1500 words; however, the editor is lenient with me and has allowed me to hit close to 2000 depending on the topic. The Federalist on the other hand is definitely more interested in keeping to a strict 1500 word count and their editors shorten pieces to fit their readership. That’s the job of an editor.

This word count limitation makes sense. We are writing essays, not books. Most people get bored or tired reading long articles on the Internet and are less likely to finish reading one in its entirety if it drones on. The Internet by its very nature is a place of short, pithy, and introductory explications. It is the medium of books to go into further detail on a particular topic.

This is important to keep in mind when reading any author’s essay on the Internet. I commonly receive complaints that I missed this topic or that, or that I didn’t give a thorough explanation on an issue. How could I? My job as a writer on the Internet is to provide an introduction or a short explanation of complex topics. I also have to keep to one topic at a time. I obviously missed all of the other topics outside of my scope.

I published a piece on Fides et Ratio, a 130 page encyclical. I am not positive, but it may be Pope Saint John Paul II’s longest encyclical. The aim for my essay was to help Catholics see that resources, vast resources, exist inside of the Church to help us confront the claims of agnostics, atheists, and other interlocutors in the culture. I was not giving a thorough reading of the encyclical. To do that I would have to write a book and, quite frankly, I introduced the encyclical because I want people to go out and read it. It is hyperlinked in the article I wrote and above.

The Internet is a great tool for gathering information. I use it regularly as a writer and a graduate student, but in order to delve deep into a topic I have to read books, many books, on different topics. There are no quick, short, easy answers to complex questions. My essay on FR wasn’t even meant to be taken as a response to atheism and agnosticism. You have to read FR or the Catechism to begin to understand the Church’s teaching on faith and reason. I cannot possibly provide the necessary arguments to scientific or philosophical questions in 1500 words which would prove satisfactory to our critics. Instead we must study our resources, learn the arguments, and use them in proper mediums.

Not to mention that, in my experience, those interlocutors who communicate in comboxes are more interested in ad hominems and assumptions than serious intellectual inquiry and honest intellectual discussion. My atheist friends are much easier to engage in discourse in person without the temptation to incivility that is prevalent on the Internet today. That is why I dealt with the one troll in the article by suggesting they study the Catholic understanding first and then come back for discussion. I was encouraging honest intellectual inquiry, something that is vastly ignored in the new and arrogant atheism. I read atheist philosophers to understand their position. Atheists need to read actual Catholic sources first before they can engage in intelligible discussion. You can’t debate a position you have not studied.

This is the problem, though. People think that it is possible to get the entire answer in 1500 words or less. The Internet runs the risk of making us intellectually lazy. We want immediate answers and gratification, rather than doing the work that is needed. Nobody is expected to embark on the path of a theologian or philosopher if it is of no interest to them, but it is possible to study the basics in order to develop enough of a grasp to respond when questions arise. St. Paul tells us we must be able to give account for our joy. We cannot do that if we are ignorant of what our Faith teaches us.

My husband and I had heated discussion about this last night. He was complaining about the lack of fire in Homilies and how theologically minded priests tend to bore the parishioners. I guess because I study theology, I greatly enjoy the deeper Homily. My husband wants to hear more about living the mission and the fear of Hell. Fair enough. There is a dearth of Homilies on the Last Things and many have devolved into the current heresy of moral therapeutic deism. I agree with him, but I disagree with him that this would be enough to help people respond when they go off to a secular university.

A relationship with God, I prefer communion to relationship because of its ontological implications, is crucial and foundational for the Christian. If we do not love God, then we cannot grow in holiness and work towards our eschatological end which is to be united in communion with the Beatific Vision. This is all well and good, but our relationship with God cannot be our justification in the face of rationalism, reductionism, materialism, nihilisim, relativism, scientism, and utilitarianism, all of which are prevalent systems in our culture. The answer “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ” is not going to satisfy the scientific atheist, not mention that it oversimplifies greatly what it means to be a Catholic. Instead we must appeal to the reasoned arguments of our tradition, most widely laid out by St. Thomas Aquinas and other saints, or the recent work of Pope Saint John Paul II or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as well as the whole host of orthodox theologians at our disposal through a plethora of books.

Yes, there has been a major break down in catechetical development over the last 50 years, chances are, even longer. My experience of CCD classes in the 80’s and 90’s can be summed up in one word: felt. God gave me a dad who is a philosophy major with a profound love of Aristotle and Aquinas, which inflamed a love of learning within me at a young age. For that I am eternally grateful.

We must acknowledge that the Church suffers from self-inflicted wounds. This is an area in need of serious attention, but we also must come to accept that it is our responsibility to learn the faith. It is not our priest’s or the religious education coordinator’s, it is ours. All of the documents we need are on the Vatican website, in the Catechism, or in Scripture. Not to mention that thousands upon thousands of books have been written over the last 2000 years to guide us on the journey to holiness. We must take responsibility for our faith and not pass the buck elsewhere.

As parents, it is our duty to pass down the Faith. We will all stand before God some day and have to give account for what we did with the children He gave to us and whether or not we taught them the Faith while they were young. If we don’t know the answer to a question, then we find it. Children learn to pray, give, attend Mass, and live lives of holiness from their parents first and everyone else second. The catechist at our parishes cannot possibly teach our children holiness in one-hour a week, nor should we want them to. If our children are not living the faith or interested, then we must look to ourselves. Now, when they are adults they make their own choices. As long as we do the best we can, the rest is left up to prayer and fasting.

Reading blogs, essays, and articles on the Internet is a worthwhile pursuit. We learn news and new information from a wide variety of sources. We connect with the rest of the world in an instant. While it is a good, we cannot fall for the trap of thinking we can know everything we need to know about a topic or an author in 1500 words, or worse, when we only skim an article and then comment on it or email the author. We all skim at one time or another.

The Internet is a great place to begin, but we must be willing to enter into deeper study through books and documents that go into greater depth. You cannot understand FR in its depth and beauty from my 1500 word essay. You have to read it for yourself. You won’t be sorry and even if some of it is confusing, you can at least begin to understand the basic arguments. While Pope Saint John Paul II was a brilliant philosopher and complex thinker, many of his Church documents are widely accessible in understanding. May God bless you on the journey of growing in deeper communion with the Most Holy Trinity through the use of both faith and reason.

Catholic Exchange: Why Study the Works of Saint Augustine?

Saint Augustine, whose feast day is celebrated by the universal Church on August 28th , is “the greatest Father of the Latin Church”, according to many Popes, but in this instance Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He was a man who underwent a radical conversion, and whose intellect and skill as a pastor and theologian, left a profound impact on Christianity as a whole and Western civilization. In Saint Augustine, the undercurrents of Western Culture, its philosophical and theological influences, and the past and present meet in his works. His additions to Catholic thought in both philosophy and theology continue to shape the minds of members of the Church and non-Catholics alike. His Confessions are still considered one of the greatest works of literature in Western civilization. He is read in the classrooms of both secular and Catholic universities. Pope Paul VI said of him, “It may be said that all the thought-currents of the past meet in his works and form the source which provides the whole doctrinal tradition of succeeding ages.”

Augustine was born in Tagaste in the Roman Province of Numidia in Africa on November 13, 354. His father, Patricius, was a pagan and his mother, whom we know as St. Monica, was a devout Christian. There is little doubt that the fervent prayer, fasting, and devotion of St. Monica had a great influence on St. Augustine’s eventual conversion to Christianity. As is often the case on the journey to truth, Augustine’s life was impacted through the works of a non-Christian, in this instance, the pagan Cicero. When Augustine went to study in Carthage, he read Cicero’s, Hortensius. In hisConfessions, Augustine explains his response to Cicero, “The book changed my feelings…every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardor in my heart.”

After reading Cicero, Augustine began to read Scripture because he came to believe that Jesus Christ was the only answer. He knew that while the wisdom of Cicero was a starting place, it was incomplete and erroneous in many areas. Augustine’s first introduction to Scripture did not go well. He found it unsatisfying and the Latin style of the translation of Sacred Scripture was lacking in many regards. He was deeply disappointed in his first reading and study of Scripture.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

9 Articles to Help You on the Spiritual Journey October 12-18

path-in-the-woods-13615460746I3Here is this week’s installment of articles and blog posts to help you on the spiritual journey. Enjoy! Pax Christi.

Where the Rosary Appears in Lord of the Rings, Br. Joseph Bernard Marie Graziano, O.P. Word on Fire/Dominicana

Giving Up on Prayer, Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction

Make Your Work an Act of Worship, Fr. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O., Catholic Exchange

Year of Mercy Extraordinary Graces, Fr. Ed Broom, OMV, Catholic Exchange

Be Hopeful Despite Everything, Steve Greene, Crisis Magazine

Some Spiritual Truths that Will Set You Free-A Meditation on a Teaching by St. John of the Cross, Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington DC

Blindfolding God, Br. Jonah Teller, O.P., Dominicana

The Vulnerable & Rejected God: Power Made Perfect in Weakness, Chris Hazell, Word on Fire

Pope Francis and True Mercy, Bishop Robert Barron, Word on Fire

8 Articles/Blogs to Help You on the Spiritual Journey Oct 5-11

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I am going to start a new weekly update on my blog of articles or blogs I see that will help you on the journey to holiness. I have noticed that a lot of the places that collect Catholic blogs and articles focus on news and politics. I think there is a need for Catholic writers to also focus on the mission, which is a life of holiness and evangelization. There are many wonderful articles available each week, if you look, that provide spiritual guidance from the saints, the Church, and daily life. Here are a few from October 5-11.

The Ultimate Challenge: A Heroic Life as Spiritual Fathers, David McClow at Catholic Exchange
Be Perfect…Really?, Br. Timothy Danaher, O.P. at Dominicana
The Beads and Repetition of the Rosary, Romano Guardini at Catholic Exchange
A Lamp for My Feet, Br. Ambrose Arralde, O.P. at Dominicana
The Man of Wasteful Love, Dr. Tom Neal at Word on Fire
Enemies of the Cross of Christ, Sam Guzman at The Catholic Gentleman
Saints are Still Being Made, K.V. Turley at Crisis Magazine
God Wants Me to Be Happy-A Reflection on a Deeply Flawed Moral Stance, Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington DC

Pax Christi